Greenhouse Product News

Big Grower January 2022

The business magazine for commercial growers

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4 JANUARY 2022 COVER STO RY helped them find their way, he asked if they would like to take a look at the property for sale, which was an 800-acre parcel in Larkspur, Colorado. "They fell in love and bought it," says Aaron. "They came back from vacation, told the family that we're selling the business here in Pennsylvania, we're going to move to Colorado and retire." Eighteen months later, the family was in Colorado. Arie retired, but couldn't sit still for too long. A year went by before he built a three- acre range that is now Dutch Heritage Gardens. Before becoming Dutch Heritage, however, Arie built a greenhouse and called it Cherry Creek Growers. At the age of 15, Aaron was running a night shift crew made up of college kids. "I loved it," Aaron shares. "I had a knack for managing and for growing plants. I had a passion for it and loved managing crews of people." Fast forward a few years, Arie partnered with local grower Mitch McDonald to create a new company called Rocky Mountain Growers. At 21, Aaron was working as a general manager with the company when he decided he wanted to branch out and do his own thing. He moved to Ohio and worked as a greenhouse general manager for a few years. During Aaron's time in Ohio, Rocky Mountain Growers was sold to Color Star Growers, as Arie wanted to focus more on his 80 acre hydroponic tomato company: Sunblest Farms. However, Arie knew his son wanted to run his own company and asked Aaron if he would like to return to Colorado and purchase the original facility he built on the 800-acre parcel in Larkspur, as it had not been part of the sale to Color Star. So, in 2006, Aaron and his wife Rozalia moved to Colorado, purchased the building and property, and Dutch Heritage Gardens was born. TARGET MARKET AND STRATEGY From day one, Aaron and Rozalia — who are 50/50 owners of the company — shared a vision and knew they wanted to differentiate themselves from the big box market. Rozalia, too, has a background in horticulture. Born in Bulgaria, she was a horticulture major working in the United States on a school program, which brought her to Rocky Mountain Growers where she met Aaron. She had a keen eye for color and design, he says. "We had both seen challenges from growers selling to big box stores … and we didn't want to go that route," says Aaron. "Our vision was to go after the grocery store market. They have foot traffic, but no one goes there to plan their garden out. They go to buy milk, bread and eggs." He and Rozalia asked themselves, "What can we offer them that's different than what they could get at a big box store?" And that is how they came up with their claim to fame. They created a whole lineup of container gardens, which they call instant gardens, that appealed to the do-it-for-me generation. "They don't have time to get their hands dirty in the garden and take something from a four- pack and cultivate it for the next three or four months until it grows into a beautiful flower," Aaron says. "We were going after the younger generation with 'impulse buy' items, so they could purchase an instant container that has different colors and textures of plants, and put it out on their front porch or the balcony of their apartment." As marketing and brand manager, Rozalia put together 30 to 40 different recipes and paired them with decorative containers. They put the recipes in the back of their van and pitched them to the local grocery chains. At the time, Aaron says, everybody was using black, white, terra cotta or green plastic. That was the norm, and they wanted to offer something fresh with instant appeal — the whole package. The buyer for the King Soopers chain (owned by parent company Kroger) was particularly impressed, and immediately placed an order. "We built a production model to service their [153] stores with the different combinations he liked, and we did the same thing with Albertsons, another grocery chain at the time. So that was 2 million customers right out the gate." After a few years, King Soopers — happy with the partnership and the product quality — asked Aaron if he would like to have 100% of their outdoor offerings, which included hanging baskets, gallon perennials, zonal geraniums, etc. There was just one caveat; Dutch Heritage could no long service competing grocery chains. Aaron made the deal, and they went from $800,000 in King Soopers sales that year to $3.5 million the following year. Today their business has grown to over $10 million with King Soopers. "The business has grown exponentially together," says Aaron. "We formed a very good partnership. I don't think there's many growers that can deliver two times a week to 150 locations like we do. We built our logistics Dutch Heritage Gardens is currently adding 5 acres of growing space to accommodate both flower and hemp sales, bringing the total to 15 acres.

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